In The Beginning Was The Word

(c) Jo Fielding 2010
It's now about three months since I was ordained Bishop. We've moved house and even though the new study hasn't been built yet we're quite comfortable. I've put over 13,000 km on the car, been on an aeroplane about once every couple of weeks or so, taken up my membership of the Dunedin Club, got the guys from the ICT Gateway into the office to cast their eyes over our computer system, and have become very used to the wonderful luxury of an efficient and pleasant PA. I've been in quite a few parishes, though I really wish it could have been quite a few more. I've nearly got used to the deference I receive from folks, both inside and outside the church, and today, for the first time, I think I began to understand what being a bishop is actually about.

Most days I have a list of people who want to see me. Sometimes that means a latte in a secluded corner of some restaurant or other. Sometimes it means an hour in one of the surprisingly comfortable green faux leather seats I inherited with the office. Always it means a conversation about something important. In the parish, amongst the run of the mill domestic issues that cropped up on a daily basis, someone would turn up in my office with a major crisis of some sort once or maybe twice a month. Now the big, tangled, emotionally draining issues are laid out before me two or three times a day. After all, there is a lot of inertia to be overcome in order to ring Debbie and make an appointment, drive down to Green Island and then come and sit down with the scary guy in the purple shirt, so people generally don't do it unless there's something fairly significant happening for them. Of course, it's not all bad news. Yesterday, for example, there was a lovely woman, a priest from Auckland, wishing to introduce herself and be part of us for a while. And today, I was talking to someone about major life issues when he gave me a Word. Just like the old desert fathers and mothers who gave a Word to their disciples (that is, something significant to mull over and be getting along with for lets see now... oh, I don't know.... let's say the next 20 years) this wise man had been mulling over something I said, and in prayer had a eureka moment which he knew was for me, not him. i.e. he had a Word for me.

At my last meeting with him I had mentioned the phenomenon of organisations having a, for want of a better word, "soul". Organisations develop a character or persona of their own which is bigger than the sum of the people who belong to it. Perhaps every organisation has such a "soul". Parishes certainly do. This organisational "soul" persists for longer than the lifetime of the members, for generations, centuries, even. And it doesn't always reflect the character of the members; which explains why some corporations, some regiments, some companies and even some churches, acting as an entity, can behave so badly (not in our diocese, obviously), while each and every one of the individual members is actually a very pleasant person who would never dream of doing that stuff in their ordinary, personal lives. I think that the metaphor of the angels of the Churches, the stars in the hand of Jesus described in Revelations 2 & 3, describes this phenomenon of the ongoing, superhuman persona of churches.

In the fortnight since I talked about this, it had dawned on him that a bishop's job, like a vicar's job, is the cure of souls. But the bishop's job is the cure of the "souls" of churches. My task is spiritual direction, encouragement, healing, restoration, celebration, bringing to fullness the "souls" of the churches in the see entrusted to my oversight. It is a ministry to the stars in the hand of the one like a son of man. I know that the cure of the souls of churches will involve all the interpersonal and organisational and sociological skills I have, but before it is anything else, it is a spiritual task, and one therefore in which my own spirituality is the first (and only?) tool that actually counts for anything.

How all this works itself out in practical terms, I am not yet sure, but I feel a deep inner certainty about the direction I am moving in. I left the conversation sobered. Daunted. Excited and invigorated. Convicted. Challenged. Confident that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6)


Merv said…
Extraordinary insight from both you and your friend.
I had used the terms 'culture' or 'vision' of a church when thinking about who carried these forward. But your description of 'soul' is much fuller.
May the Spirit of God give you strength & wisdom. I look forward to the continuing logos from Dunedin.
Bill said…
You are right on in your comments today. I wish you God's grace, mercy, and faith to be the best bishop you can be.

Barbara Harris said…
" and the The Word was with God "..
The need is for kryptonite, the kryptonite of godliness, once not uncommon, but a quality scarce among Christians today. It is like fine gold and rare perfume, utterly beautiful. but of immense power.
It is like the speaking of the creative word of Genesis, which goes forth and accomplishes the work of God.
VenDr said…
In a private conversation a friend gave me a better word than "soul", Merv. It is wairua, a Maori word meaning the spirit or spirituality of a thing or place, although soul will do.

Barbara, I like the metaphor of kryptonite also, and its associated inference of weakening and defeat of the superhuman powers. Yes, it is simple godliness that will do it. of course the trick is to be able to.
Elaine Dent said…
My congregation just celebrated its centennial a few weeks ago, complete with the bishop coming. Since then I have set aside time every day to listen for our next steps together in mission while reading "Unbinding the Gospel" by Reese. Your/ your friend's/the Word's insight about the soul of a congregation will be part of my prayer and listening. Thank you.
daharja said…
I'm going to keep it simple: I know exactly what you mean. And you are so exactly right.

I think!

We are all of us so in need of healing, and the places in which we live seem to soak up and breathe out the sadness and the bitterness like living beings, don't they?
Anonymous said…
I'm loving reading the blog and your transition into bishophood. Your comments around corporate "soul" and your link with Revelation echo the work of Walter Wink trilogy. I would affirm the sense that you are onto something in terms of your role,

steve taylor